I got thinking about what tools I’ve found to be indispensable as a manager. it’s more about the routines than the tools.
at the end of the day I block off all the gaps in the next day with focus blocks. depending on how many emergency tasks I got during the day, I might block off 2 days out.
I did this as an engineer to give myself deep focus blocks and it was effective. I’d title the blocks what I planned do with that time which also helped keep me on track; if I started to drift I’d check my calendar and remind myself what I was supposed to be doing.
it took me a while to realize I should also do this as a manager. before I realized I could, my days were getting completely filled with talking to other people, but managers need deep focus, too!
typically I’m only able to grab 30m here or an hour there but it’s way better than nothing, and I’ve gotten good at chunking work into smaller pieces. sometimes I do need that multi-hour block though, and if I don’t proactively block one out, I’m really unlikely to luck into that type of consecutive free time.
I use Google Calendar in a browser tab.
I need a place to jot ephemeral notes, but more importantly I draft a lot of messages. I frequently find myself rewording slack messages as I’m typing and I’ve gotten in the habit of stopping and writing it in my scratchpad instead, helps me edit & think without feeling like I’m being all brianloveswords is typing…
I’ll skip right to the scratchpad if I know the message is gonna be longer than a few sentences because I know I can’t write more than a few sentences without an overwhelming desire to tweak.
when I’m confused in larger meetings, I write out questions I want to ask, and probably edit a little bit. helps me figure out better ways to ask my question in the most direct way possible and not ramble endlessly in front of a crowd. also helps me figure it out without asking sometimes.
I know a lot of folks who use pen & paper, and I really like writing by hand, but I really don’t like having to transcribe stuff that I want to make permanent, I’ve grown weak and dependent on clipboards.
I use Obsidian with the Periodic Notes plugin, and my scratchpad is a
# scratchpad heading in my daily note. I’ll make subsections underneath for stuff, like
## message to EMs, to separate different scribbles.
I have opening the daily note bound to a keyboard command, so it’s very low friction to get to my scratchpad at any point.
gotta have a place for the tasks, but with a strict rule: everything on the list must have the date I plan to work on the thing. this is not a place for things I might hypothetically do at some indeterminate point in the unknown future, it’s for things I am committed enough that I’m willing to toss a date at it.
I’m pragmatic, if I have a low priority thing I want to get done in the next month, I’ll just pick an arbitrary time in the near future and reassess later.
this pairs nice with a focus-blocked calendar. if I’ve only got 1 hr of focus in the next day and my plan requires 3 hrs of focus work, I’ve gotta make some adjustments.
other people are probably able to do this more intuitively, but I have to be pretty deliberate about intentionally valuing my own time. until I figured this out I was behind on everything I needed to do and think about, I could never find the time.
this helps me make the time without having to work late, and also gives me better signal for when I need to start delegating or applying backpressure. I’ve historically been bad at delegating and this has been forcing me to get better.
I use Obsidian with the Projects plugin for this. it lets me see the tasks laid out on a calendar so I can compare to what focus time I have available on those days, or proactively block it out.
tools & routines I’m missing
the main one I’m feeling a need for is a better way to keep long term goals in front of me. short term is concrete and comfortable, I need to be more deliberate about long term goals which can feel fuzzier and less real.